That is the magic that the audience experiences, and that the actor, along with the director, editor, and others need to create.
We use words like chemistry, connection, intimacy, and intensity, to describe a connection between characters in a scene. That is what film tests are about. How is the chemistry between the actors? Even stars will do screen tests with their partners to see if the “chemistry” is there and shows up the screen.
Actors are quick to criticize their acting partner when the scene isn’t working. I like to say in my class, “It’s easy to work off a great actor, they give you everything to work with and to work off of.” What I hear from actors all the time is, “How do you work off someone that doesn’t give you anything?” My answer is this, “There is a lot to work off of, you just are not seeing it, hearing it, nor paying attention to it, thus not able to work off it.”
Here’s one way to approach it. “Don’t’ analyze your acting partner, utilize them.”
A big mistake actors make is they criticize their partner for not giving them anything. When that starts, it’s pretty much over. It becomes competitive, argumentative, and a lot of blaming about the other person’s talent, and how it is ruining the scene. Our job is to work off our partner, to see them, to hear them, and completely use everything that they are giving you. I mean everything. One of the first people you will work “off of” is a casting director if they are reading with you for a part. They are not super experienced as actors, and when they do it all day long, they might just be reading the lines to you and not be emotionally invested. You can’t blame them for your poor performance.
“What if they aren’t giving me anything?” I often hear. “They are always giving you a lot.” I used to say, “if they are breathing, they are giving you something,” until I saw an actor work off of a dead mouse. It was brilliant. Our work is to connect and work off our partner’s behavior, take it personally as the character, and use it. Add a little imagination, need, passion, urgency, and going after trying to change and affect your partner, and you’re in the game.
There are all kinds of approaches to work off of behavior.
A good actor has tools in his toolbox to help find the “imaginary truth” of the situation, and make it come to life. A good acting class or coach can help, there are great techniques out there, but the best way is through experience. Work on scenes, do theater, make your own videos. Get notes and watch. An editor is a great person who can see chemistry between actors. Actors need to learn to notice it, embrace it, and make sure it’s always happening in their work. How much attention do you put into creating chemistry with your partner? For many auditions that I watch, or scenes, cold readings, even first readings, not as much as I’d like, or as much as is potentially there to be.
Try this. Connect to your friends and loved ones this season. As most people take a short break for the holidays, and visit family and friends try this. Make it a practice to listen to them, pay attention, really see them and experience them. Notice their behavior, even speak to it. Also, be present with them. Discover the chemistry. It’s a great acting exercise and might even improve your relationship with those who you don’t get to see often.